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WORLD HEALTH FORUM. 1993; 14(4):390-5.About 80% of the world's people depend largely on traditional plant-derived drugs for their primary health care (PHC). Medicinal plants serve as sources of direct therapeutic agents and raw materials for the manufacture of more complex compounds, as models for new synthetic products, and as taxonomic markers. Some essential plant-derived drugs are atropine, codeine, morphine, digitoxin/digoxin, and quinine/artemisinin. Use of indigenous medicinal plants reduces developing countries' reliance on drug imports. Costa Rica has set aside 25% of its land to preserve the forests, in part to provide plants and other materials for possible pharmaceutical and agricultural applications. The Napralert database at the University of Illinois establishes ethnomedical uses for about 9200 of 33,000 species of monocotyledons, dicotyledons, gymnosperms, lichens, pteridophytes, and bryophytes. Sales of crude plant drugs during 1985 in China equaled US$1400 million. Even though many people use medicinal plants, pharmaceutical firms in industrialized nations do not want to explore plants as sources of new drugs. Scientists in China, Germany, and Japan are doing so, however. Screening, chemical analysis, clinical trials, and regulatory measures are needed to ensure safety of herbal medicines. WHO has hosted interregional workshops to address methodologies for the selection and use of traditional medicines in national PHC programs. WHO, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, and the World Wide Fund for Nature developed guidelines for conservation of medicinal plants. Their 2-pronged strategy includes prevention of the disappearance of forests and associated species and the establishment of botanical gardens. WHO's Traditional Medicine Programme hopes that people will apply known and effective agroindustrial technologies to the cultivation and processing of medicinal plants and the production of herbal medicines and the creation of large-scale networks for the distribution of seeds and plants.